What does it say about an organization when the pressure to meet sales quotas is so great that it drives its top employees to commit suicide? While that question may raise many ethical issues for consideration, to even have to ask the basic question seems to indicate a company that not only values making its numbers over doing business ethically, but even more than the well-being of its employees.
This question came from reading a piece in the New York Times about the company Abbot Laboratories in India and the suicide of one of its employee’s Ashish Awasthi, who had won a top salesman award in 2015. He drove himself in front of a train. A note was found in his pocket which read, “I’m going to commit suicide because I can’t meet my company’s sales targets and my company is pressuring me.” That is about as damning an accusation as an employee can make. His death led 250 of his colleagues to walk off the job in a one day protest over “what they called the company’s overly aggressive sales policies.”
Some of the pressures the company used included:
Requiring sales representative to put on health camp where employees claimed they actually practiced medicine, which is illegal in India. At these health camps Abbott employees would gin up sales by recommending Abbott products, warranted or not.
Requiring employees to purchase enough Abbott products out of their own funds, if they did not meet sales quotas.
Firing supervisors who objected to sales team member submitting fake invoice to show sales.
The suicide of Ashish Awasthi and the Times article point up, yet again, the clear importance that senior management has in setting a tone for ethical conduct in compliance with laws. It was not clear from the Times piece if Abbott had engaged in conduct which violates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. However, with the pressure management put on its sales team, including that which led to Awasthi’s suicide, it is clear that basic human decency was not a part of the culture. From this perch it is certainly not a distant leap to bribery and corruption to make sales in violation of the FCPA.